Two-time Olympic all-around champion Věra Čáslavská has died Tuesday after a fight with pancreatic cancer, Czech media reported Wednesday. She was 74.
Two-time Olympic all-around champion Věra Čáslavská has died, Czech media reported Wednesday. She was 74.
Čáslavská, the 1964 and 1968 Olympic all-around champion, died Tuesday after fight with pancreatic cancer, according to reports.
A native of Prague, Čáslavská was one of gymnastics' greatest heroes. Along with Larisa Latynina, she is one of only two women to win two Olympic all-around titles. From 1958 to 1968, she won 11 Olympics medals (seven golds and four silvers), 10 world championship medals (four golds, five silvers, one bronze) and 13 European championship medals (11 golds, one silver, one bronze). She is the only gymnast, male or female, to have won an Olympic gold medal in the all-around and every event. She is the most decorated Czech athlete in Olympic history.
Čáslavská made her Olympic debut at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, where she won silver with her team. She placed second all-around at the 1962 World Championships held in her hometown. She won three gold medals at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo: all-around, vault and balance beam. At the next world championships in 1966 (when worlds were held every four years), she led a major upset as Czechoslovakia defeated the Soviet Union in the team event, and she added gold medals in the all-around and vault.
Her final competition was at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. Prior to the Olympics, Čáslavská's training had suffered after the Soviet Army invaded Czechoslovakia, and she was unable to train in her gym.
In Mexico City, she charmed the audience with her performances, particularly her floor routine to "Jarabe Tapatío" ("The Mexican Hat Dance"). She won her second all-around title as well as gold on vault, uneven bars and floor exercise.
However, Čáslavská felt wronged in the apparatus finals where she finished second on balance beam to Soviet Natalia Kuchinskaya, and then again in the floor exercise finals, where judges bizarrely upgraded the preliminary score of Larisa Petrik to put her in a tie with Čáslavská for the gold medal. During the two medal ceremonies, Čáslavská put her head down and to the right in silent but visible protest when the Soviet anthem was played.
Though Čáslavská's actions made her a hero with her countrymen, her protest against the Soviets and open support for the "Prague Spring" democratization efforts led to her being outcast by the communist government in Prague. She was forced into retirement and denied the right to travel or even coach. Only in the 1980s was she allowed to return to gymnastics as a coach and judge.
After the fall of communism, Čáslavská was allowed to fully rejoin Czech life. In 1989, she was awarded the International Olympic Committee's Pierre de Coubertin International Fair Play Medal. She was elected president of the Czech Olympic Committee and a member of the IOC, and in later years was honorary president of the Czech Olympic Committee.
Shortly after she returned from the 1968 Olympic Games, Čáslavská married athlete Josef Odložil, who won the silver medal at the 1964 Olympics in the 1500 meters. In 1993, Odložil was killed during an altercation with their son, Martin, who was convicted of his father's murder. Depressed, Čáslavská again withdrew from public view for many years while she grieved. In 1997, Czech president Václav Havel issued a pardon for her son, who was released from prison.
In recent years, she has been more visible, granting interviews about her storied life and career. Čáslavská was inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 1998, but was not able to attend the ceremony until 2012.